עברית

Are you smiling at me, or are you scowling?

***

Winter, a pharmacy in Copenhagen, 2020. I’ve been studying Danish for a few months, but am still far from understanding the language and speaking it. I ask the pharmacist about a pack of vitamin D, to somewhat relieve my winter depression. She does not understand what I’m saying; I do not understand her reply. Both our faces are covered by CoVid masks. She cannot even notice I’m speaking english, and so I do not notice that she’s answering in Danish. I try to joke about it, and smile. Even if she got the joke, how would she know I’m smiling at her? And how would I know whether the joke made her smile, or whether she’s scowling at me, “stupid tourist, there are people waiting in line”. I pay and walk away, out to the streets.

***

Winter, a pharmacy in Copenhagen, 2020 // Are you smiling at me, or are you scowling?

Winter, a pharmacy in Copenhagen, 2020 // Are you smiling at me, or are you scowling?

***

Winter, Hefer Valley, Israel, 1991. They say that Saddam has chemical warheads in the rockets he’s firing on us. Every citizen is issued by the state a personal protective kit that includes two objects: a syringe filled with Atropine, and a gas mask. The syringe penetrates the skin, the heart, an object of dread, and we will never use it. The mask envelopes the face, a tempting armor, an object of desire, and we will use it a lot. We cover not just our faces but also our home, one room chosen to be completely sealed with plastic sheets and sticky tape. At the sound of alarm we don our masks and head towards the safe room, stepping onto the stage of the domestic theater. I am a child, and as children do I have little sense of what’s a game and what’s not a game. I understand that something real is happening, but also am excited by the ritual, the intoxicating smell of rubber filling my nostrils. Years later we will learn that there were no chemicals inside the warheads, and the masks were perhaps part of a political theatre. But they remain part of the homefront culture, the show has changed reality: the safe room was solidified in law, and every new apartment built in Israel has to have access to a fortified safe space. At school, the teacher shows us how to decorate our protective kit’s cardboard box with crayons and stickers – as if it wasn’t already an attractive, enchanting object, even sans colors. And they teach us to keep it at arm’s reach, always.

***

Cinemas, 1994. Jim Carrey plays Stanley Ipkiss, a pitiful dork, who finds a magical mask that is meant to externalize whatever is suppressed in the person who bears it. The result is a horny, vengeful, narcissistic bully. Later in the film, a violent mobster bears the mask and becomes an even more violent mobster. A dog bears the mask and becomes even more of a dog. The logical conclusion is that Stanley Ipkiss was always a latent horny, vengeful, narcissistic bully. At the end of the movie, Stanely gets the girl.

***

Winter, Hefer Valley, Israel, 1991 // An Israeli family in a bomb shelter, all wearing ABC (Atomic/Biological/Chemical Weapons) masks, Image by Jane Fresco, Herzliya, from Wikipedia

Winter, Hefer Valley, Israel, 1991 // An Israeli family in a bomb shelter, all wearing ABC (Atomic/Biological/Chemical Weapons) masks, Image by Jane Fresco, Herzliya, from Wikipedia

The Mask, Jim Carrey, 1994

The Mask, Jim Carrey, 1994

***

I’m on an airplane, a surgical mask on my face. It’s a long trip, I got to the airport in public transit, the mask has been on me for many hours now. I can smell my own breath. My scent fills the nose, amplified by the paperlike fabric. There is nothing normal about this, an aspect of myself I usually never notice. Like being in a room made of mirrors, like seeing myself from behind. What a mistake, I should have taken my cotton mask.

***

Cinemas, 1999. Keanu Reeves plays Thomas Anderson. He’s being interrogated by a clandestine government agency. They confront him with the fact he bears two identities – one registered in the tax registry under his given name, the other under a chosen name online. Only one identity is deemed acceptable by the agency. Thomas knows his rights, he demands his phone call. “Tell me, Mr. Anderson – what good is a phone call, if you are unable to speak?” riddles the agent, and Thomas discovers that his mouth has disappeared, the lips now connected in a smooth strip of skin from the nose to the chin.

***

Israeli TV Studio, 2000. It’s a popular evening talk show, and tonight’s guest is the hottest musical sensation of the season. Years before his rise to recent fame, this singer suffered two terrible accidents – a fall off a scaffold that has left him paraplegic, and a gas tank explosion that caused severe burns to his face and body. He lives in an abandoned house in a poor suburb, is known only by his alias “The Burned”, does not give any public performances, and has given one interview so far, to the biggest daily newspaper in the country, with his face completely covered by a medical mask. His voice trembles when he speaks, and becomes clear only when he begins singing his top-charts hit “Deception of Grace, Illusion of Beauty” (based on a quote from the Book of Proverbs) (1). The song is about a man in love who cannot reach his beloved, and it asks “how come this lie has lips?”. In the TV studio after singing, the Burned gets up from his wheelchair and unmasks himself to reveal flowing locks of thick hair and a beautiful face – the face of the actor-singer Haim Zinovich. With glistening eyes, on the verge of tears, Zinovich tells the interviewer that after many long years of failed attempts to reach an audience, he realized that journalists like him would never give him stagetime without this cover story.

***

Israeli TV Studio, 2000 // “The Burned”, actually actor-singer Haim Zinovich, interviewed by Yair Lapid

Israeli TV Studio, 2000 // “The Burned”, actually actor-singer Haim Zinovich, interviewed by Yair Lapid

***

CoVid masks are a double whammy for people with eyeglasses. Especially on cold winter days. My breath gets trapped inside the mask, blowing up and out to my cheeks. I step outside, and immediately my glasses are filled with steam, obscuring my field of view. When I was younger I protected myself from the world by opting to wear thick-rimmed glasses. But now that I’m older and more confident, wishing to open myself to the world and to let it reach me, I choose lighter frames. And then comes the mask and covers my eyes in a misty veil. I walk carefully down the street, breathing slower to minimize the effect, and other pedestrians cannot see my eyes.

***

New York University’s School of the Arts, 2010. In the graduation exhibition of the prestigious Interactive Telecommunication Program, a graduate named Adam Harvey presents a series of photographs in which male and female models wear make-up designed with asymmetrical patterns, meant to disrupt and evade digital facial-recognition systems. The project is a hit, and Harvey is invited to produce more designs for a New York Times photo shoot. We’ll get back to that later.

***

The French Senate, 2010. After at least three decades of attempts at legislation and public scandals, mainly around the use of religious symbols in public schools and especially around the headdresses of Muslim women and girls, the Senate passes Act No. 2010-1192 – “Loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l ‘espace public” – a law to prevent face-covering in public space, the first of its kind in the European Union. The law is primarily aimed at preventing the use of face covers such as the niqab or burqa. Supporters of the law see it as an expression of French secularism, opponents see it as a drastic violation of personal liberty. Both supporters and opponents see the other side as catastrophic for feminism and as a serious case of religious coercion.

***

Cinemas, 2012. Batman is once again the hottest superhero thanks to a film series by Christopher Nolan, a director who’s known for dealing extensively with the illusory dimension of cinema. Batman wears a mask concealing his other identity – Bruce Wayne, a billionaire heir to a huge industrial corporation. In the third film in the series, Bruce Wayne / Batman faces off against a working-class hero: a masked revolutionary named Bane. The mask on his face is not meant to hide his identity, but rather is a medical device that helps him cope with severe physical pain, caused by a chronic problem that’s a result of the harsh conditions he grew up in.

***

The Internet, 2013. Edward Snowden leaks thousands of confidential US government documents, which reveal, among other things, the existence of PRISM – a system for mining and cross-referencing information from countless users of online services of the Internet’s giant infrastructure corporations, such as Facebook and Google. The exposure further increases interest in Harvey’s camouflage makeup. We’ll get back to that later.

***

New York University’s School of the Arts, 2010 // Graduation exhibit, the Interactive Telecommunication Program // Adam Harvey // Hair by Pia Vivas, Model: Jen Jaffe

New York University’s School of the Arts, 2010 // Graduation exhibit, the Interactive Telecommunication Program // Adam Harvey // Hair by Pia Vivas, Model: Jen Jaffe

Woman wearing a Burqa / September 14, 2010, the French Senate passed into law Act No. 2010-1192 - "Loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l 'espace public' – preventing the use of face-covering in public space, the first of its kind in the European Union. The act became known publicly as “the Burqa Law”.

Woman Wearing a Burqa // September 14, 2010, the French Senate passed into law Act No. 2010-1192 – “Loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l ‘espace public’ – preventing the use of face-covering in public space, the first of its kind in the European Union. The act became known publicly as “the Burqa Law”.

Cinemas, 2012 // The Dark Knight Rises by Christopher Nolan // Two masks representing two different, diametrically opposing, social and psychological structures, at conflict // The Superhero Batman & the villain, Bane.

Cinemas, 2012 // The Dark Knight Rises by Christopher Nolan // Two masks representing two different, diametrically opposing, social and psychological structures, at conflict // The Superhero Batman & the villain, Bane.

In 2013, following the release of thousands of classified documents and his escape from the US, NSA computer intelligence consultant Edward Snowden had received temporary residency status in Russia. Two years following the incident, in April 2015, political comedy commentator John Oliver devoted his show “Last Week Tonight” to surveillance and privacy issues and had presented an extensive interview with Snowden.

In 2013, following the release of thousands of classified documents and his escape from the US, NSA computer intelligence consultant Edward Snowden had received temporary residency status in Russia. Two years following the incident, in April 2015, political comedy commentator John Oliver devoted his show “Last Week Tonight” to surveillance and privacy issues and had presented an extensive interview with Snowden.

***

My living room, 2016. I’m sitting on the couch, leaning forward, an oxygen mask on my face. It is connected to an old pneumatic nebulizer, its plastic casing is yellowing from a lifetime of use, its engine as noisy as a tractor, the rattling sound fills the small apartment. Seasonal flu has exacerbated my asthma, the great weakness overcomes me and clouds the senses, but I am well trained: 50 CC of Ventolin, 150 CC of water. How long has this device been with me? 25 years? 30 years? Throughout my adult life, I have hardly allowed anyone to see me using it. That is the real nudity. But tonight my partner is there. Tonight I let her see.

***

Normandy Beach, 2017. It is right before dawn on June 6, 1941. I crawl with my platoon towards the German bunkers, bullets whizzing above our heads. It is the 14th edition of a popular action videogame series named Call of Duty. Visual technology really improved in the two decades since this genre became popular, and can now present violence in all its gory details. When my comrade is hit by a mortar shell only a few steps from the water, I see the painful expression on his face from up close. The officer looks me straight in the eye and tells me to get myself together, this is what I’ve been training for, we have to breach the bunker. When I get to the trenches the real fun begins, no longer just evading, I am sniping the enemy left and right. But I cannot see my enemy’s faces: the game spares me the full results of my actions. Every time they die by my rifle, the game twists their body so that they fall facing down, relieving me from the full impressions of my duty. I press on through their defenses, stepping on their bodies, inland through the trenches and the bunkers, my opponents always face-down in the mud.

***

***

When exactly did soldiers begin hiding their faces? I can’t recall the moment. I’m not talking about blurring face photos of military pilots and elite soldiers in news articles – that’s an old practice. I mean the newer phenomenon of soldiers wearing a “tactical mask” that only reveals the eyes under their helmet, like a ninja in a soldier’s costume. I suppose the reason for the new concealment is the same as the old reason: to prevent personal harassment, and especially to prevent personal prosecution for war crimes. A sort of acceptance that modern soldiers deal mostly with a civilian population, and function mainly as policemen, only without the theater of protecting it. All that’s left is to hide them from a different police.

***

In Vipassana meditation they teach you that the road to insight passes in attention, and attention grows from observing the things you would usually do in a state of distraction. You start from the body itself: the thing most available to us, 100% of the time and always wired to our brain. Your most basic bodily function – breathing – must be done without attention. How could you even live with intentional breathing? So you start there. Vipassana begins by defamiliarizing breathing itself. Perhaps it is no way to live, with uncanny breathing, but uncanny breathing is an effective gateway to meditation. It’s all coming back to me with the mask on. I feel each breath in all my senses – the heat and the steam, the taste and smell, the sound of myself echoing between fabric and skin.

***

Eye of the storm, 2018. Every kid in the world is playing ‘Fortnite’ (Inspired by the 2000 Japanese film “Battle Royale”) (2) : a hundred players are parachuted on an island; their goal is to murder each other, the winner is the last one standing. The creators of this videogame earn their fortune by selling costumes and masks that the players’ virtual avatars can wear. These costumes are called ‘skins’. Fan-favorite skins include a banana costume and a costume in the form of the fictional contract killer John Wick. Rich kids, whose parents allow them the purchase of new skins every Fortnite season, use the derogatory term ‘default’, coined after the free-of-charge default character skins, to bully poor kids .

***

The Black Death mask is back in vogue. Not yet as an actual clothing accessory, but as an image: “plague doctors”, clad in black robes, their faces hidden behind a mask with a long pelican-like beak full of perfumes and herbs, are recently making more and more appearances in movies, games, comics. The image is almost always divorced from the historical role – they do not treat the sick – the mask mainly serving to herald death, often mixed with other Gothic, Victorian, and Medieval-Christian imagery.

***

Back in vogue // The Black Death mask

Back in vogue // The Black Death mask

***

I am traveling from a place where it is expected to wear a mask in public to a place where it isn’t; The mask is still on me, out of habit, and suddenly I feel all eyes on me, I am discovered as a stranger. I return from a place where it is not expected to wear a mask in public to a place where it is, and forget to put on the mask in transit; then I notice the eyes staring at me, feel exposed, I am discovered as a stranger. For most of the world, CoVid masks have emerged as a policy with no custom or tradition behind it, and yet their use patterns have quickly become group signifiers. I walk into a new place and try to guess what its norm will be like – is it a place of masks? A place without masks? Do I prefer to integrate, or to maintain my principles – even though my principles themselves are new and foreign to me?

***

Recently a popular use of “Machine Learning”, a method that allows computers to understand things on their own, is to identify and alter human faces. Social media users take images of their political leaders and puppeteer them into giving the hopeful speeches they will never actually dare to give; the technique is known as “Deep Fake”. Video-calling software allows callers to distort their own faces into a cartoon, or to put digital masks on their reflections. The technique is known as a “filter”. Usually when a filter appears the conversation stops, while all attention is given to the mask, and does not continue until the mask is removed.

***

***

The Internet, 2020. Global superpowers such as China, the UK and the United States are expanding their use of facial recognition systems, and employ them to monitor civilians. Public awareness of this is growing between the Hong Kong demonstrations against the extradition bill and demonstrations following the assassination of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the United States. Fashion bloggers and online influencers photograph themselves experimenting with Harvey’s anti-surveillance makeup method. Other designers have followed suit to create plastic masks with lenses that distort the face, hats that project a different face on top of the wearer’s, glasses with an array of infrared bulbs to blind scanners. None of these camouflage techniques could actually compete with the rapid development of surveillance systems in the age of machine learning, none of them could even be accessible to those who do not have a lot of money or free time, and all of them would make their users stand out as particularly strange and conspicuous in the eyes of any human law enforcer, even if the machine will not recognize them for a moment. But the fantasy of individual opposition to tyrannical rule, combined with an aesthetic reminiscent of cyberpunk cinema, is too tempting to let go. Like the hipsters of the early 2000s, who imagined they could resist capitalism through alternative consumerism, so do some hipsters now believe they can resist tyranny through alternative clothing and makeup.

***

They say that in the age of Covid it is more crucial than ever to master the smize. Smize is a shorthand for “smiling with your eyes”, as coined by Tyra Banks in 2009. I am far from mastering the smize. I have no technique. I try, but instead of alluring merriment, I just look slightly angrier. When I actually smile, my eyes become slender slits; a balance between the widening mouth and the narrowing eyes. But now with my mouth and nose covered, every smile is an almost complete closure of my face. You couldn’t tell whether I’m smiling at you, or scowling.

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One of the many philosophical sci-fi whimzies In Douglas Adams’ the Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the machine called “the Total Perspective Vortex”. The imaginary machine is based on a real scientific concept: if each object in the world affects its environment, through forces such as magnetic fields, radiation, gravity etc… then each object has always been affected by the entire universe. We can all still feel the currents of the Big Bang, and if that is so, we do not even have to look at the night sky to get a clear picture of the universe. Theoretically, it is enough for us to direct a sensitive enough sensor to any object, and by the powers operating on it, infer everything – the locations of all planets, the entire histories of all galaxies. “The Total Perspective Vortex” is an attempt to imagine such a machine: on its one side, a super sensitive sensor stares at a tiny cookie and infers from it the entire universe. On the other side of the machine, a booth designed for one occupant, presenting to them the picture of the entire universe and the occupants’ relation to it.

In Adams’ book, a scientist invents a “Perspective Vortex” as an answer to his wife, who used to rebuke him for spending a disproportionate amount of time working. When she enters the machine, the scientist discovers one more important fact: anyone who enters the vortex and sees for an instant the entire universe and history in relation to themselves, instantly loses their mind.

To [the scientists’] horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion. – The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Chapter 11, Douglas Adams

This funny-scary metaphor was written by Adams three decades prior to Morton’s Hyperobject concept, which guides this issue of Utopia Magazine [presented by Eden Kupermintz in our opening article on Inhuman Scales followed up a deep dive by our colleague Gili Ron. Nevertheless, it gives a remarkably accurate description of it; the universe is the ultimate Hyperobject, the cathedral in which all objects conjoin, and above all, it nullifies definitions and proportions that humans try to hold on to. “The universe is getting colder” is one of the scariest sentences ever: it depicts the horror of something that is unthinkable just as it is undeniable.

But what if we had a machine that is similar to the “Total Perspective Vortex?” And what if, when entering it, we discover that the perspective does not make us feel completely horrified, but awakes completely different emotions? What if instead of fleeing the dread of hyperobjects, we can use this machine to try and adapt to life by their side? In fact, there are several versions of this machine, and they are found in a slightly unexpected place.

“Clicker Games” are a genre of computer games that is named after its main activity: clicking the mouse button again and again. This genre has two additional nicknames: Incremental Games and Idle Games. Those nicknames represent the common processes in these types of games. We begin with a simple task, like producing a product. On screen is a ticker that follows the number of units we produced, with a big button next to it. Each time you click the button, you produce one unit of the product. After we’ve produced a certain number of units, we can start acquiring other products that will allow for automatic production of the product, and we can stop clicking the button ourselves. This is the stage where the game turns from a “clicker” game to an “idle” game. From this point on, we basically do not have to do anything else, as the game starts to play by itself. However, we can still invest our production profits in buying more and more automated production systems and derive pleasure from increasing the production rate and the rising number of units produced – hence the name Incremental Games.

Most of these games start with the production of something mundane: wood logs, cookies, eggs. However, to maintain the pleasure of the numeric increment, numbers must grow in an exponential rate, together with the metaphor: Wood choppers expand their village and build a town with the wood logs they collected, and the chicken coop extends to an empire that produces billions of eggs via robots, distributing them all over the galaxy, in spaceships. 

Slowly, an absurd perspective is uncovered: who needs all these eggs? How many trees can you chop before consuming the entire forest? The absurd of chasing big numbers, together with the simplicity of clicker games, made them popular amongst researchers, mainly as a tool for satire. The philosopher and game designer, Ian Bogost, created the game Cow Clicker as satire of the games company Zinga, which is infamous for the abusive practices of its Facebook games. In the satirical game Cow Clicker, one of the first major clicker games, the players are required to click on their cow every six hours, and if they want to shorten the process, they must pay money or ask friends for “help”. Unfortunately for Bogost, his satire gained popularity just as that of the games he wished to ridicule, and the abusive practice he asked to criticize, only gained greater popularity with the arrival of games like Candy Crush.

Image from Cow Clicker, game by Ian Bogost

The game Universal Paperclips was created by games scholar and creator Frank Lantz as a demonstration of the thought experiment suggested by philosopher Nick Bostrom, known as the “Paperclip Experiment(1). In the game, we embody an artificial intelligence trusted with the management of a paperclips factory. However, just like the scientist’s wife claimed about his relation to his work, the AI lacks proportions, and so we find ourselves consuming all of Earth’s natural resources towards our goal – manufacturing more paperclips. When we finish with the Earth, after it has been completely consumed, we expand our paperclips business to the entire universe.  

On the surface, both Universal Paperclips and Cow Clicker ask to be interpreted as parodies of the neo-liberal economic worldview. The former ridicules the idea of “infinite growth”, including the ecological damage and social alienation it brings with it. The latter tries to peel off the layers of fat over the so-called casual, popular games, to expose their true face as another type of abuse in disguise. 

However, underneath the social critique and intellectual amusement, the emotional experience of playing these games, as well as other less critical clicker games, offers something completely different. Something in these games has the potential to give some solace to the shock caused by encountering unthinkable objects such as the coronavirus or natural disasters.

First, perspective. In our everyday lives we are chained to our personal human perspective. From our infinitesimal place in the universe, the latter might seem too big to take in. Art can offer us other perspectives, and clicker games almost always present a completely flat view: the one of computers. We see the world via a data table that hosts a set of growing numbers. All numbers are different from one another quantifiably, but not essentially: like the computer that produces paperclips, we have no relatable scale. All numbers are different from one another in exactly the same way, i.e., identical to one another in every human aspect. If there is a graphic representation on screen, it stays similar as well: the visual difference between a factory that produces a thousand eggs to a factory that produces a billion of them is trivial to us, because we would not be able to present this change in proportions, without ruining the game. Vis-à-vis the lack of difference, that existential Absurd that Camus wrote about, awakens: the tension between action and its lack of purpose. Even though in mathematical terms the game describes infinite growth, properly speaking it describes an ongoing, progressive present-state: if we narrow our eyes in front of the computer, we would not be able to determine whether we produced one hundred or one billion cookies. The game is still fun though – a happy Sisyphus comes to mind.

Second, the fact that these games are addictive. Highly addictive. There is something distilled in the experience of seeing a number growing, knowing that every click on the button will make it bigger. This is an almost-sensual pleasure, simpler and more pure in comparison to that of complicated games: like a drug that is extracted from plants that contain the active ingredient of it in lower dosage. This specific pleasure, the seduction of growing into titanic, universal dimensions, might soften a bit the experience of titanic, universal phenomena in life itself.

To understand this temptation, let’s turn to the originator of the sci-fi & horror genres mix that became “weird fiction”, early 20th century author, H.P. Lovecraft (2). The Lovecraftian literary aesthetic received the nickname “Cosmic Horror”, for dealing with massive natural phenomena alongside scientific research that uncovers the secrets of the universe, and representing them in fiction as the discovery of gigantic monsters and ancient gods that hide beyond the horizon, awakened from their sleep. In his recent book, The Weird and the Eerie, philosopher Mark Fisher noticed that the main emotion provoked by Lovecraft’s stories, both in the characters and the readers, is not exactly horror, as the writer himself figured, but rather fascination. The phenomena that dwarf us, whose sheer size and meaning nullifies our miniscule significance, are so incredibly huge that they stop being scary: they charm and captivate us. The heroes of the stories, and us with them, are drawn uncontrollably to the mighty gods Lovecraft writes about, especially when the mind cannot contain them. The cosmic horror is not as threatening as it is tempting. Perhaps “Cosmic Temptation” would be a better fitting name for the genre.

Surprisingly, clicker games offer a similar temptation. Each of them has a moment in which quantity becomes quality: the ungraspable size of the factory you built, even if it is a chicken coop, even if it is on the tiny screen of your mobile phone, is astronomical. There is something fascinating about this size. The action itself, of following big numbers going up and down the screen, is very reminiscent of the obsessive refresh of online feeds or news about the number of people with coronavirus or reports about gas emissions. Through your virtual farm, you can learn to live with big numbers, and maybe even understand our attraction to them a bit better. 

We can use clicker games as a cheap and safer version of the “Total Perspective Vortex”. Just like the ancient gods and monsters, this imagery can teach us how to live with big numbers. But we must not become indifferent to them. The rate of melting icebergs, the national budget, the number of deaths from coronavirus, Bill and Melinda Gates’ investment portfolio: big, unthinkable numbers that we cannot comprehend, exist in real life just like small numbers (which are more  measurable for us), and they dictate our lives just the same. We must learn to live with big numbers, but it does not follow that we must live with them in peace.

Recommendations

Spaceplan

A clicker game designed by a solo developer, which may be the best example for “cosmic temptation”, not only because it is not as addictive as many other clicker games (see warning at the end of the recommendations), but also because it directly engages with cosmic scale. In the game, you are the commanders of a small spaceship that orbits around an unrecognized planet. With the help of the spaceship’s computer, you will investigate the planet, collapse the solar system, and even make it to the end of the universe. All of this accompanied by a calming electronic soundtrack that stimulates in us the feeling of floating in outer space.

Available on Android or iPhone.

Image from the game Space Plan

You are Jeff Bezos     

The short and brilliant work by Kris Ligman from 2018 interweaves Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” and journalism, and it is sort of an upside-down clicker game: instead of accumulating imaginary fortune, you have to spend the ‘real’ fortune of billionaire Jeff Bezos in a way that will benefit the world, according to (rough), research-based cost estimations.  

Free on your computer.

Image from the game You Are Jeff Bezos by Kris Ligman

Universal Paperclips

Frantz Lantz’ game begins with Bostrom’s thought experiment and sails further on, to the edge of its reason. In an interview from 2018, Lantz said that he would like to bring the player to the same obsessive place of an AI – to understand how computers “think”. This game is slightly more complicated than its generic peers, and it includes a bunch of surprises that will constitute a non-trivial challenge, which even looks like an antithesis of idle games. However, underneath these surprises, all the  challenges of this game demand basically the same thing, which sometimes seems to be the top priority of computers in contemporary culture: optimize processes. 

Available for free on your computer, paid on Android or iPhone.

The Horror of Universal Paperclips and Space Engine

The video of YouTuber Jackob Geller presents a similar thesis to that presented in this article, yet Geller chooses to remain with the feeling of existential horror. Geller recommends among others, another YouTube video that depicts the distancing of galaxies and the existential simulation, Space Engine.

Available to watch on YouTube   

An image from The Horror of Universal Paperclips and Space Engine by Youtuber Jackob Geller

Everything

Not a clicker game at all, but a different way to describe equality on a universal scale, “Everything” by David O’reilly lets us experience the “viewpoint of every object in the world” – from a bus to a polar bear, a cloud, a whole galaxy, a lice and a single electron – and then dance with them. All this while listening to recorded lectures by Beat philosopher Allan Watts. This is an outstanding aesthetic experience, and it also conceals a sort of idle game: if you turn on the game without touching the remote or the keyboard, after a minute or two it will start to play itself. 

Available on your computer or on PlayStation. 

An Image from Everything, by David O’reilly

A warning

The article specifically makes mention that clicker games can be very addictive. This is a serious matter, as some of these games can provoke uneasy emotions, and a compulsive-obsessive experience: these games demand players to give them more and more attention, constantly spinning the wheel. One simple way to keep caution is to avoid clicker games that are also free-to-play, meaning that their profits arrive from recurring micro-transactions, or from advertisements. These games have a huge incentive to be addictive, and often their creators do in fact design them to be that way. Bottom line: games that are prepaid are usually safer to play.

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